| BY KAREN HURSH GRABER , writing from Mexico | Many Mexican dishes, from the iconic mole poblano to the Yucatan’s escabeche and chilmole , are often called “spicy.” These and other regional specialties rely on spices for their distinctive ﬂavors, but what exactly are spices? And how do they differ from herbs, with which they are so often combined in Mexican cooking? Culinary herbs are gener-ally the leafy portions of a plant, preferably used fresh, although they can be dried. Cilantro, parsley and mint are just a few of the signa-ture herbs found in Mexico’s cuisine. Spices, however, come from any other part of the plant besides the leafy ones. They are usually dried, and can consist of berries, like allspice and peppercorns; roots, such as ginger; ﬂower buds, like cloves; seeds, such as nutmeg; or ﬂower stamens, in the case of saffron. And some generous plants give us both. The cilantro plant, which provides the leafy green herb that is central to countless Mexican recipes, also gives us the spice cori-ander, the plant’s dried seed. And the allspice tree, which ﬂourishes in the Sierra Oriente of Puebla and Veracruz, pro-vides the allspice berry, dried and used as a spice, as well as the fragrant leaves, which are used as herbs. as the stew is called, also incorporates three kinds of dried chiles, which cross the somewhat indistinct line from fresh produce to spices when they are dried. Allspice, along with an-natto, or achiote , was one of the spices indigenous people used in pre-Hispanic times. When the Spaniards arrived, they introduced a broader array of culinary ingredients, USING SPICES IN MEXICAN FARE One dish, from the mountain town of Zacapoaxtla, uses the leaves and the berries of the allspice tree in a chicken and vegetable stew. Chilpozontle , 18 el restaurante | MARCH/APRIL 2017
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